johnmac's rants

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jobs, Robots, & AI Again -- Part 2

(My 171st  column for the Westchester Guardian in the Creative Disruption Series, "Jobs, Robots, & AI Again -- Part 2" appears in the July 23rd edition and is available at http://www.westchesterguardian.com/7_23_15/wg_7_23_fin.pdf. The entire paper, including pieces by critic John Simon, Mary Keon, Peggy Godfrey, and Robert Scott, is also available at the site. The column is posted below.)

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Creative Disruption
Creative Disruption is a continuing series examining the impact of constantly accelerating technology on the world around us. These changers normally happen under our personal radar until we find that the world as we knew it is no more.  
Jobs, Robots, & AI Again – Part 2
By John F. McMullen
If one accepts the evidence presented in my previous column that ongoing innovation in technology will cause greater and greater disruption in the economy in general and employment in particular – and I do – we are then faced with the question of how we deal with these changes. It is, of course, hard to answer the question when we don’t know exactly what the changes are and when they will occur – and expert opinion is all over the place on these issues.
We have the optimistic people who feel that the people of the United States have the inherent skills and wherewithal to cope with any such problems if we first recognize the problem, understand the depths of it, come up with a well-thought-out solution, get the public behind it, and work very hard to implement the solutions. This belief and will to succeed is evidenced in the 2015 375-page book by “Rework America,” a group of fifty forward thinkers and public intellectuals (business people, technologists, politicians, academics, and labor officials) entitled “America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age.
In the preface to the book, Zoe Baird of the Markle Foundation, explains the groups’ view of the challenge, writing, “Together, we are in the midst of the biggest economic transformation in a hundred years. It has disrupted the expectations – and even dreams of millions of Americans. The defining challenge of our time is making sure that all Americans will be included in this transformation.”
A bit later, Baird attempts to frame today’s challenge into a historical context – “We have been here before. A century ago, America was going through the greatest economic transformation and technological revolution in its history. Cities sprang up overnight, and traditional farm life disappeared for many. There were extremes of wealth and poverty. Then came the Great Depression, which left a third of America, in the words of Franklin Roosevelt, ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished.
“Only when our leaders began to embrace new approaches for a new world did the American Dream achieve real meaning for the majority of Americans.
“In the decades that have passed since, no other era has achieved the scale and significance of the economic upheaval of the early 1900s.
“Until today.
“The transformation of the past 20 years – as our nation has moved through the information era into the digital age – has turned the world upside down again.
The authors return to the optimistic “been there – done that” theme at the very end of the book, quoting Woodrow Wilson in a 1912 campaign speech – “ There is one great basic fact which underlies all the questions. … That singular fact is that nothing is done in this country as it was done twenty years ago. We are in the presence of a new organization of society. Our life has broken away from the past. … We have changed our economic conditions, absolutely, from top to bottom, and with our economic society, the organization of our life. The old political formulas do not fit the present problems.”
Wow! Wilson could certainly have been talking about today. Twenty years ago, the graphic browser “Mosaic” and its commercial successor Netscape’s “Navigator” were just bringing the World Wide Web to the masses and creating a reason for people to have computers in their homes – and twenty years ago, on July 15, 1995, Amazon debuted as an on-line book seller. Today, of course, Amazon sells just about everything and has made its millions of customers part of the ordering system, dramatically changing how business is done in the United States.
While the authors of America’s Moment use Wilson’s quote to support their belief in our ability to adjust (as long as we follow their prescription), others could take the same words to support much more radical ideas. In “A World Without Work” (The Atlantic, July / August 2015 issue), author Derek Thompson introduces us to a small group of writers, academics, and economists who have been labeled “post-workists” and “welcome, even root for the end of labor.” (even though I dwell on this aspect of Thompson’s fine 11 page article here, there is much more to the piece and I recommend its reading in its entirety -- http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/07/world-without-work/395294/). Thompson quotes Peter Frase, the author of the forthcoming book, “Four Futures,” dealing with how automation will change America in massive ways:
·      The means by which the economy produces goods,
·      The means by which people earn income,
·      An activity that lends meaning or purpose to many people’s lives.
Fraser told Thompson “We tend to conflate these things because today we need to pay people to keep the lights on, so to speak. But in a future of abundance, you wouldn’t, and we ought to think about ways to make it easier and better to not be employed.”
Thompson goes on to discuss this view with Benjamin Hunnicutt, another post-workist and a historian at the University of Iowa. Hunnicutt said that American society “has an irrational belief in work for work’s sake even though most jobs aren’t so uplifting.” He pointed to a 2014 Gallup report of worker satisfaction which found that as many as 70 percent of Americans don’t feel engaged by their current job and added “Purpose, meaning, identity, fulfillment, creativity, autonomy – all the things that positive psychology has shown us to be necessary for well-being are absent in the average job.”
While Thompson recognizes some truth in what the post-workist say, he feels that they miss the importance of self-esteem that can be gotten from meaningful work and the need that most have to keep busy – he points out that, according to Nielsen, retired seniors watch about 50 hours of television a week – “That means that they spend a majority of their lives either sleeping or sitting on the sofa looking at a flat screen. The unemployed theoretically have the most time to socialize, and yet studies have shown that they feel the most social isolation; it is surprisingly hard to replace the camaraderie of the water cooler.
What Thompson does agree with the post-workers is an important point – “Paid labor does not always map to social good. Raising children and caring for the sick is important work, and these jobs are compensated poorly or not at all.” He understands, however, that the proposed solution of the post-workists is not feasible in the present political and economic climate in the United States. Moreover, though, he disagrees with the solution, writing, “When I think about the role that work plays in people’s self-esteem – particularly in America – the prospect of a no-work future seems helpless. There is no universal basic income that can prevent the civic ruin of a country built on a handful of workers permanently subsidizing tens of millions of people. But a future of less work still holds a glint of hope, because the necessity of salaried jobs now prevents so many from seeking immersive activities that they enjoy.
The prime importance, I think, of “America’s Moment,” the Thompson article, the forthcoming “Four Futures” and other works is that lots of people are now thinking that massive changes are in the offing and are trying to cope with the challenges that they see. The July / August 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs contains an 18 page section “Hi, Robot: Work and Life in the Age of Automation” with contributions from Daniela Russ (“The Robots Are Coming: How Technological Breakthroughs Will Transform Everyday Life”), Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (“Will Humans Go the Way of Horses: Labor in the Second Machine Age”), Martin Wolf (“Same as It Ever Was: Why the Techno-optimists Are Wrong”), Illah Reza Noubakhsn (“The Coming Robot Dystopia: All Too Inhuman”), and Nicholas Colin and Bruno Palier (“The Next Safety Net: Social Policy for a Digital Age”). It seems to me that there is much of value in the contributions of these writers and their insights will be examined in my next column.
Stay tuned!
John F. McMullen is a writer, poet, college professor and radio host. Links to other writings, Podcasts, & Radio Broadcasts at www.johnmac13.com, and his books are available on Amazon.
© 2015 John F. McMullen


The Multi-Talented Bonnie MacBird on the Weekly johnmac Radio Show.

My discussion tonight (Sunday, July 28, 2015) on the "Weekly johnmac Radio Show" with the multi-talented Bonnie MacBird is available at
https://s3.amazonaws.com/btr.shows/show/7/794/show_7794697.mp3 


Bonnie is a writer, film producer, musician, actor, and educator -- She was the screenwriter for the classic movie, "Tron", has won local Emmys for her television documentaries,  has appeared in Shakespearean dramas, teaches writing at UCLA, and is the author of the forthcoming novel "Art In The Blood" centered around Bonnie's favorite fictional character since age 10, Sherlock Holmes.

My guest on next week's show (7:00PM Eastern time, August 2nd) is attorney and "Narrowbacks" mainstay Edward Fitzgerald. Listen in (or call in with questions / comments) by dialing 646 716-9756 (a URL will be published during the week for computer access).


--> A bit of commercial information.  My column appears weekly in the Westchester Guardian along with regular columns by ex-Congressperson and co-chair of the 9-11 Commission Lee Hamilton, critic John Simon, and historian Daniel Pipes. The Westchester Guardian is available in print format and online at www.westchesterguardian.com. My books (poetry and fiction) are available at Amazon and I blog at johnmac13.johnmacrants.com.
 
I also encourage free subscription to my daily curation of the news, "johnmac's news of the day". Check it out at http://paper.li/f-1416296565  --- Articles for the paper are curated from the New York Times, Reason Magazine, New York Daily News, Wired Magazine, New York Post, the Nation, Washington Post, National Review, Guardian, Vanity Fair, Miami Herald, the Atlantic, MIT Technology Review, USA Today, Mother Jones, Denver Post, and other sources.I wish people would try it, comment to me about it (johnmac13@gmail.com) and subscribe -- Only 1 e-mail per day (containing an article index) is received and, as mentioned above, it's free!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Emmy Award Winner, Screenwriter ("Tron") and Author Bonnie MacBird on the johnmac Radio Shoe

My guest this week on the "Weekly johnmac Radio Show" (Sunday, July 26th at 7:00 PM Eastern Time) is the multi-talented Bonnie MacBird, author, screenwriter, playwright, actor, teacher, and all around interesting person. While she is perhaps best known for her screenplay for the movie "Tron", she is a Emmy award winning documentary film producer and is the author of the forthcoming novel, "Art In The Blood". Join us on your computer at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/johmac13/2015/07/26/the-weekly-johnmac-radio-show
or on your telephone at 646 716-9756. No matter how you listen to the show, you may use the phone number to speak to us on the air (I hold on-air participation to near the end of interview with my guest).

. I also encourage free subscription to my daily curation of the news, "johnmac's news of the day". Check it out at http://paper.li/f-1416296565 --- Articles for the paper are curated from the New York Times, Reason Magazine, New York Daily News, Wired Magazine, New York Post, the Nation, Washington Post, National Review, Guardian, Vanity Fair, Miami Herald, the Atlantic, MIT Technology Review, USA Today, Mother Jones, Denver Post, and other sources.I wish people would try it, comment to me about it (johnmac13@gmail.com) and subscribe -- Only 1 e-mail per day with an article index is received and, as mentioned above, it's free!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

My conversation on the johnmac Radio Show with Human Rights Activist Rob Mercatante (and more)

My conversation this week (Sunday, July 19th) on the johnmac Radio Show with Human Rights Activist Rob Mercatante is available at:
The audio from Rob's end is a little up and down due to some difficulties at his phone end -- also my engineer cut in with music at a point -- but, in spite of these difficulties, I believe that the show is well worth hearing. Rob shows a tremendous spirit and willingness to serve others. Rob suggested the following sites as good information resources about Guatemala (where he has spent the last 25 years under often difficult conditions): He also recommended the documentary "Granito", which is described at the following sites (the film may be purchased through the PBS site):

The URLs for the 96 previous shows are available at my web home, www.johnmac13.com

My guest next week (Sunday, July 26th at 7:00) is  is writer / producer Bonnie McBird, author of, among other things, the much praised “Tron.   . – I hope that you’ll join us then -- the phone number for listening that way is 646 716-9756 (the URL will be sent out when available).
Tonight's episode is the 97th show in the series and, in 100th episode on August 9th, I will have a number of the previous guests at the microphones to fill us in on their recent exploits.

A note on a previous show – back in June, I had motel-owner and one-time college basketball player, Steve Lawrence as a guest and he related that he, at the age of 73, would be playing in the Senior Olympics, held this month in Minneapolis in the post 70 age group in “Three-on-Three” basketball. Steve did play in 9 games in the tournament and, in a field of 25, his team “brought home the bronze,” finishing third. Steve plans to continue playing with a goal of competing in the “post 80 category,” seven years from now. Congratulations to Steve and may he keep "draining the jumper" until he plays in the post 90 competitions.

I also encourage free subscription to my daily curation of the news, "johnmac's news of the day". Check it out at http://paper.li/f-1416296565  --- Articles for the paper are curated from the New York Times, Reason Magazine, New York Daily News, Wired Magazine, New York Post, the Nation, Washington Post, National Review, Guardian, Vanity Fair, Miami Herald, the Atlantic, MIT Technology Review, USA Today, Mother Jones, Denver Post, and other sources.I wish people would try it, comment to me about it (johnmac13@gmail.com) and subscribe -- Only 1 e-mail per day with an article index is received and, as mentioned above, it's free!

Friday, July 17, 2015

“Just Say Yes: a marijuana memoir”


From the Library
“Just Say Yes: a marijuana memoir”
reviewed by John F. McMullen
 
In conjunction with my July 5th radio interview with author and Westchester resident Catherine Hiller (s3.amazonaws.com/btr.shows/show/7/743/show_7743719.mp3), author of seven adult works and two children’s books, I read four of the adult works:
·      An Old Friend From High School” – her first novel (1978) deals with a heterosexual married woman dealing with a strong attraction to a girlfriend from high school.
·      Skin: Sensual Tales” -- A collection of erotic short stories.
·      The Adventures of Sid Sawyer” – A retelling of the Tom Sawyer story from the vantage point of his younger and highly intelligent brother, Sid.
·      Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir” – her only non-fiction work to date (and the subject of this review), this recently published book (April of this year) is bold, brave, and well written.
Hiller’s earlier books received praise from such notables as John Updike and Phillip Lopate and I was extremely impressed with the breath of her work, as well as the quality. I personally find short story writing to be the most difficult form of writing (my published writing includes a non-fiction book, poetry, a novella, and newspaper and magazines pieces – but not short stories). With short stories, the writer must develop characterization, set a stage, develop a plot, and tell a story all in a writing style strong enough to hold the reader’s attention. This is something that a novelist may take from 150 pages to 500 pages (I just read Greg Iles’ “Natchez Burning” – and he held my interest for 862 pages; an incredible accomplishment). A short story writer must do it all in a few short pages. Some of the most well known short story writers such as “O’Henry” (William Sidney Porter) and J. D. Salinger were able to build characters and locations that were known to readers and moved across stories, making it somewhat easier for the writer to just “tell the tale.” In Skin’s case, every story deals with unique characters and situations, requiring Hiller to be at “the top of her game” for each -- and she is.
The uniqueness of the stories is also reflected in the three other books mentioned above. The settings, background of the characters, language, sexual tension, and location could not be more different between An Old Friend From High School and The Adventures of Sid Sawyer (2013). Yet, both, in my judgement, work very well and are worth the attention of readers.
Just Say Yes is brave for a number of reasons. Hiller lays bare her story of two marriages, her disappointment that her critically acclaimed writing has not brought the consumer success for which she hoped, and, of course, the details of her over 50 years of steady marijuana use. It is bold because she steps forward and, fairly brazenly, takes on what she sees as the nonsensical rules against marijuana use, at some risk to herself.
She does not, however, try to force marijuana use on the reader – she only wants those who wish to use it to be as free as those who wish to use alcohol – the use of which, she points out, is far more dangerous to most people.
Hiller’s use of marijuana did not prevent her from completing a PhD from Brown University in English, completing the books mentioned as well as short stories published in various magazines, raising three sons (she did not smoke during pregnancies), making a living for years as a seller of advertising in medical journals, and maintaining an active editing service for other writers.
She presents her story in an interesting fashion, moving from the present backward in time to the age of 17, when she first smoked “pot.” Once I became used to the juxtaposition in time, I found the story telling both innovative and effective.
Early in the book, she details how the drug’s use affects her writing process – she finds it useful “for inspiration and writing. After half a joint, I feel a tingling in my elbows and a warm general confidence. Happiness suffuses my brain, and I become more playful and inventive. It’s the perfect time to plan a project, because ideas come more quickly. It’s also a good time to actually write, because, I usually feel so good I don’t notice the demons of doubt. Being high eases me into writing; after a while, I’m no longer stoned, but the writing momentum continues. I’m in flow.
“I also like being high for the final read-through, of either my own fiction or pieces that I edit for others. I honestly feel I owe it to my clients to do the final reading after smoking, for then I often see subtle infelicities of meaning or rhythm that I’ve missed before, and I correct them on the spot. I do not usually check again when I’m straight, as I’m confident about my fine-tuning decisions when stoned. I give my clients a perk they know nothing about: a high level of attention.
Hiller also explains early about some of the other ways that marijuana benefits her – “Of course, I don’t smoke just for writing and editing. Basically, weed is a general pleasure drug for me, a mild, reliable way to get happy, Most things I enjoy I enjoy even more when I’m high, especially if they don’t require energy. So relaxing outdoors is especially good for me after smoking, I like being baked when I lie on the beach, being stoned when I stroll in a drizzle and being high when I walk in the sun upon new fallen snow.
Kayaking at sunset is reliably wonderful, but marijuana brings it to aesthetic bliss. I paddle mainly in the calm harbor near my house, slowly at the end of the day. Sometimes other boaters ask, ‘Are you as happy as you look?’ and I always nod yes. Paddling like this is more meditation than sport. When people ask if kayaking is difficult, I sometimes say ‘The hardest part is lighting the joint in the wind.’
For all the positives Hiller finds from marijuana use, she doesn’t sugar coat downsides of its use, devoting a whole chapter to them. Some of the ones she points out follow:
·      “Pot makes me sleepy and lethargic, especially two hours after smoking.”
·      “Pot also takes its toll upon ones personal charms. It makes the eyes red, and it may cause wrinkles.”
·      “Marijuana famously makes one hungry and makes great food taste even better. This is advantageous if one is too thin or in chemotherapy, but for the rest of us … not so much.”
·      “It’s pretty clear from both scientific studies and personal experience that pot impairs short term memory and learning.”
Hiller then examines an issue that plagues many about a variety of “pleasures” (alcohol, gambling, Internet use, etc.) – addiction. She writes “If I continue smoking while acknowledging that pot saps my energy and makes my eyes red and my breath bad and impairs short term memory – if I go on smoking every day despite these things, perhaps it’s not a habit but an addiction.” She then directs the reader to a government page on addiction – www.easyread.drugabuse.gov -- and although she answers “yes” to a number of questions, explains why she does not feel she is addicted, writing that Narcotics Anonymous frames the question of addiction in the following context --  Very simply, an addict is a person whose life is controlled by drugs,” and then responding to the definition – “I always have grass on hand and I use it regularly, but my life is not controlled by pot. I have food on hand and I eat three times a day, but my life is not controlled by food.”
Elsewhere in the chapter, she asks the question – “Am I in denial myself?” The reader may or may not form a judgment on this question from reading this chapter.
Finally, she points out two other drawbacks to the use of pot – the cost and the fact that it is illegal in New York State. Her costs run about a hundred dollars ($100) a month and, while she’s not overly concerned about the illegality, she admits that it causes a little paranoia – “In New York State, possession of less than an ounce of pot results in just a $100 fine, but the penalty for smoking in public can be three months in jail. What if that person across the alley in the cook’s apron is really a cop?” It should be noted that she does not say what town or city that she lives in within Westchester so as not to alert the local law enforcement (although, that by writing about “the calm harbor near my house”, we know that she is on one of the two Westchester coasts).

Just Say Yes is a very good and quick read (it’s only 178 pages). Hiller tells her story without attempting to inflict her beliefs or life style on the reader. She does make a strong case for decriminalization but I admit that, in my case, she may be “just preaching to the choir.” Although I grew up in the “pre-pot age” (it became popular with the younger brothers of my friends) and have never been a user, I have long believed that the criminal penalties for both marijuana use and prostitution should be lifted and both should come under health regulation and be subject to taxation. Unfortunately, statements like this usually bring the rejoinder that I’m advocating the use of pot and going to prostitutes. The fact is that I’m doing neither – I just want to get crime and health concerns out of the picture, increase tax revenues, and let others do as they wish.
Although I initially read the book due to my impending radio interview of Hiller, I am glad that I did and know that I would have enjoyed it had I read it simply because I saw it in my local Barnes and Noble. The author is not heavy-handed in explaining her case for using marijuana and she writes well (as in shown in the breadth of her other writing). The book should not be dismissed solely as a puff piece for pot use and I recommend it to smokers and non-smokers alike.

Comments and questions are welcome – johnmac13@gmail.com
Link to Books, Radio Interviews & Podcasts – http://www.johnmac13.com
© 2015 John F. McMullen


When Chickie Comes Marching Home Again



(Based on the essay “Chickie Goes To War” in “The Inwood Book” (2010, Available from Amazon), which is, of course, based in fact, and delivered at a “Narrowbacks” luncheon on July 15, 2015.)

The Marine, Private John Charles Donohue,
was home from Paris Island
and the crowd was all where we belonged
at that stage of our lives
in the Broadstone!

But there was sadness along with the joy
because Private Donohue was now
going to Okinawa.
Okinawa? Okinawa?

But, like MacArthur, Chick rose up on the stool
and roared “I Shall Return”
and took off a dogtag and a chain
and handed it to Inwood’s best bartender
Pat Gallagher.

An aside – George Lynch was an entertainer, a friend
and a damned good bartender
but, as a pure bartender,
Pat was the best.

Pat always remembered what you drank
and, after the third, there was always a knock on the bar,
“This one’s on me, Mac”
and you never left after a buy back

Anyway, Pat takes the chain and fastens the dogtag
to the big gold chain holding a large clock over the bar
and there it will stay until
Chickie comes marching home again.

Often, over the next eighteen months,
someone will point to the chain
and offer a toast to Chickie
defending us in Okinawa. Okinawa? Okinawa?

And then it happens!
Like MacArthur – or John Wayne,
Chick is delivered back to us
and it’s off to the Stone.

Pat buys a few rounds for the bar,
Chick reclaims his dog tag,
the beer flows and there is much
singing and good cheer.

After many hours, I take my leave
This has been a joyous occasion
The dogtag has been reclaimed
and Chickee has come marching home.

It’s a pity I didn’t stay a bit longer
to see our hero get in a fight by the pinball machine,
hit the other miscreant over the head with the iron puck
and get barred from the joint.

(drum toll, please)

And the legend began to grow
and now, Chick, the high school dropout
is usually the only one in the room
with a Masters from Harvard!  

© 2015 John F. McMullen

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Jobs, Robots, & AI Again

(This column originally appeared in the Westchester Guardian of July 16, 2015 -- http://westchesterguardian.com/7_16_15/wg_7_16_fin.pdf)
 
I was sitting in the coffee area of my local Barnes & Noble the other day with my conservative friend Don Wortzman when I noticed that he had been reading an issue of “The Atlantic.” I mentioned that the issue, the July – August 2015 one was particularly interesting and he replied “I guess you’re talking about the article on work, huh?”  When I replied that I was – I think that “A World Without Work” (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/07/world-without-work/395294/) by Derek Thompson is a terrific piece – he said that he has been thinking about the topic and doesn’t believe that technology is really the reason for job loss in the last ten years.
Regular readers of this column can only imagine my incredulousness at this statement as I, along with ex-Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum, and others, have been writing about the short and long range impact of technology, mainly robotics, other forms of artificial intelligence, and telecommunications upon jobs.
Rather than just faint dead away, I listened to his explanation – he felt that outsourcing to foreign nations – or “offshoring” – is the major factor in job loss. He felt that our major job loss had been in the last ten years and that technology could not have been the major culprit in such a short time. He was also optimistic that American innovation would be able to stem the tide of job loss just as it has over the 200 years whenever there was a major shift in the economy – such as farm to industry or manufacturing to services.
I find a lot of holes in both his analysis and his optimism. As we moved into the “Information Age” (or the “Age of Technology”), we entered the first industrial age in which jobs created by the change were much fewer than jobs eliminated by the change (new jobs < old jobs). Additionally, many remaining jobs were “dumbed down” (requiring less skills, because of the impact of automation, than the jobs replaced). This dumbing down has resulted in salaries actually decreasing rather than expanding as productivity increased; an economic anomaly. The 2015 book by “Rework America,” “America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age” contains the following information: “Adjusted for inflation, the median U.S household now has a lower income than it did in 1996.Wages as a share of national income are now at an all-time low…Productivity growth was once coupled to growth in incomes and employment. The linkage to both has been broken for at least 15 years. The implicit bargain that gave workers a steady share of the productivity gains has unraveled.” – Rework America is a group, led by the Markle Economic Future Initiative (http://www.markle.org/), of over 50 business, labor, academic, and political leaders (http://www.markle.org/about-markle/economic-task-force) attempting to find solutions to the problems I address (the book is a very positive one, perhaps more positive than this column).
To begin with offshoring – many US jobs have been lost due to the ability of US firms to find workers and manufacturing capabilities in other countries which provided comparable production at much lower costs. While this practice was not totally new – companies had been doing some manufacturing offshore since the end of World War II, it was really minimal until the “Age of Telecommunications” set it. For the first time, US companies could have direct control over work done in foreign countries and “offshoring” spread like wildfire to not only manufacturing but activities never previously thought off, such as income tax preparation and analysis of X-Rays and ultrasounds (patients could have the procedures done in the late afternoon, have the electronic pictures analyzed overnight in India, and have results on the doctor’s computer by 6:00AM in the US). Moreover, as skills increased in remote countries due to familiarity with US requirements, more and more higher-level work could be offshored (The so-called “millennium bug” greatly expanded US requirements for computer programmers and a good deal of that work was offshored to India – now 15 years later, the majority of much of IBM’s programming work is done in India).
Additionally, telecommunications gave companies the ability to change the historic relationship of businesses and customers. Telecommunications has allowed businesses to make their customers unpaid employees of the business. There are many examples of this change in everyday life:
·      On-line bill paying – no longer are there people at the business opening envelopes, verifying payment, entering information into computer systems, or making arrangements for bank deposits.
·      On-line banking – customers can arrange for direct deposit from employers or clients and can transfer funds to other banks or services, schedule automatic payments for recurring obligations, and directly pay bills.
·      On-line shopping – customers can select and purchase almost anything without ever leaving their keyboards with payments made automatically from designated bank accounts.
In each case, the customer has the benefit of ease and efficiency – no going to stores, banks, etc.; no writing of checks; no mailing payments; and on-line access to an almost unlimited universe of goods and services. We have willingly taken on the responsibilities formerly carried out by clerks, data entry operators, bank tellers, and others in return for the comfort mentioned above – at the sacrifice of their jobs. I am not advocating a return to the old ways but am merely pointing out that we should be aware of the impact of telecommunications.
It is, of course, more than telecommunications that has impacted the American worker. We see evidence of other technological impacts around us daily – the ATM machine, EZ-Pass on highways, bridges and tunnels (and, now, the “we will bill you” toll booths on such as New York’s Henry Hudson Bridge), and “self-checkout” in Supermarkets and “Big Box Stores.” All of these are time savers for customers while eliminating the jobs of clerks, toll collectors, and, once again, bank tellers.
Robotics is an obvious “job killer,” replacing factory and other manufacturing jobs on an on-going basis. The impact of robotics, however, carries into many more areas than the obvious, extending into medical, warehousing, and home use. The exciting on-going developments with both Drones and “3D Printing” portend greater and greater customer benefits – and continued job loss.
The area of job loss generally overlooked by the public is in the managerial level of companies. The role of a manager is classically to manage the resources, including people, assigned to him or her and to synthesize information for upper management – for example, the supervisor of a third shift in an automobile plant would have traditionally kept a daily record of how many workers were present, how many autos were produced and how many items were rejected. The overall production manager would combine the record for the three shifts and pass this information upward where the information for all plants would be combined for top management.
In today’s world:
·      There are many less people to manage.
·      Time clocks and sensors record employee hours, cars produced, and rejects.
·      Telecommunications, data base technology, and graphics software provide the consolidation of data and the presentation tools for top management.
Artificial intelligence modules automatically approve or reject loan applications, intelligent voice recognition software coupled with custom software replace telephone receptionists and reduce the need for “help desk” personnel (and when the software cannot solve the customer problem, telecommunications often routes the customer to a human in a foreign country) – and the list goes on and on and will continue to grow as machine intelligence and robotics continue to replace human workers.
United States provides greater and greater services – services unthought-of fifty years ago with less and less people. Thompson points out in the above article “In 1964, the nation’s most valuable company, AT&T, was worth $267 billion in today’s dollars and employed 758,611 people. Today’s telecommunications giant, Google, is worth $370 billion but only has about 55,000 employees – less than a tenth the size of AT&T’s workforce in its heyday.”
So – less people working and making less money! Is this the way it has to be? Not necessarily, according to many authors, including all of the ones mentioned in this piece – but all see changes that must be made including, for some, a re-definition of work. I will review such changes in a subsequent column.
(Will any of the above change the opinion of my conservative friend? I doubt it – facts rarely change such opinions! (written with a smile))
John F. McMullen is a writer, poet, college professor and radio host. Links to other writings, Podcasts, & Radio Broadcasts at www.johnmac13.com, and his books are available on Amazon.
© 2015 John F. McMullen



 
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